How much value should be placed on employees’ happiness and what impact does this really have on business success and profitability? Wendy Dean of Strategi Solutions Group explores the real drivers for engagement and how to foster them.
Just over 10 years ago when I was working as an HR director, if I had asked our senior team how much concern we should be giving to the happiness of our staff, I would have probably been laughed out of the boardroom.
Employee happiness and engagement
This was in no way a reflection of that particular company, but instead of the thinking and current attitudes of the time.
But then in 2008 when the recession hit, mindsets had to change as employers were forced to rethink their people strategies and to refocus on ways in which they could actually retain and nurture the best of their talent.
The current wellbeing movement has progressed this way of thinking even further, with employees now expecting there to be an emphasis on their happiness and satisfaction in the workplace. But have employers caught up?
I would argue that while we are moving in the right direction, we aren’t quite there yet.
It almost seems too obvious a point to make, that happy more contented staff will surely make for a more motivated and productive workforce.
Businesses really do need to recognise just how important the happiness of their staff is and how it will and can positively affect their bottom line.
New work ethic
Like many managers from the baby boomer generation, I have had a work ethic ingrained in me that we come to work, to work hard and to earn a living.
In setting up my new business, I have had to challenge myself to think differently about the type of environment that I wanted to create and in doing so I have gone against some of my natural beliefs.
Today, the happiness of my staff is still one of my main priorities and influences every decision I make.
It may be a cliché and one that is championed by the entrepreneur Richard Branson, that “if you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers”, but I’d take this one step further by saying that genuinely happy staff will provide the best advocate for your business and will be more likely to be prepared to go that extra mile, both for your business and your customers.
So how can we determine just how happy our staff actually are? Traditionally we would have looked at factors such as employee turnover and absenteeism, but “bums on seats” can no longer be considered an effective measure.
Looking for evidence
Start by asking yourself some simple questions: Do you see any evidence of your staff going above and beyond what you ask of them on a regular basis? Are they willing to attend out-of-work events to represent your business?
How well do they interact with your clients? And what I believe to be the most important gauge, how prepared are your staff to get involved in helping to set the strategy of your business?
I am a huge supporter of encouraging employees to play their part, or having “employee champions” throughout all levels of a business.
I advise all of the companies that we support to put this simple yet powerful concept in place, and time after time it has continued to deliver positive results.
Champions are constantly challenged to come up with new ideas on how the business can be improved, so that change is driven from the bottom up and is embraced by staff instead of being dictated to them, without consultation from the top levels of the business.
A recent comment from one such champion at an organisation we work with really sums up just what this approach can mean to people. They said: “Being a champion has changed my life, from doing the same job for 26 years I now feel an important part of the company”.
Start by asking yourself some simple questions: Do you see any evidence of your staff going above and beyond what you ask of them on a regular basis? Are they willing to attend out of work events to represent your business?”
We can no longer afford to take a one-size-fits-all approach to how we manage our staff, they are individuals and we need to treat them as such.
This means that flexibility has to be key, whether that is in adopting flexible working hours for each team member or making sure that staff have a healthy work/life balance by limiting the amount of time they can spend in the office.
Listen and share
The senior management team has to be accessible to their employees, regularly engaging and listening to their staff. After all, if we don’t ask our staff whether they are happy, how can we actually know? And this of course involves really listening to our staff, asking them what they want, listening and responding accordingly.
Another important factor is sharing success. Whether that means you’ve hit your profit targets, been nominated for an award or gained a new client, all staff need to be recognised for their contribution. This can be as simple as a thank you email, the introduction of profit share schemes or annual staff award ceremonies.
Having the right culture in place to support this employee-focused way of thinking is of course key and for many businesses a necessary step that they need to take. The culture change programme that I have developed for our clients embraces the innovative concept that culture within an organisation has to be driven from the bottom up, through the employees.
They have to be on board and living and breathing your company values and vision to really make a difference. And while on the subject of values, don’t just tell your staff what these values are, ask them about what they feel is important to them. If this isn’t asked, how can staff ever truly believe in the values?
So while the happiness of our staff is incredibly important, there has to be of course a balance between this, productivity and customer satisfaction. The three are intrinsically linked: too much emphasis on one and not enough of another can lead to an imbalance on the happiness scale.
Organisations that really embrace the concept of policies that have their employees’ happiness and wellbeing at their heart will reap the benefits in the long term.